How innovation can tackle food insecurity, both present and future.

By Lilith Foster-Collins

Jun 10, 2024

A recent UN report has revealed the extent of global malnutrition, with one in four children at risk of irreversible harm due to poor diet. Lack of access to important food groups can stunt children’s growth and brain development, and impact their chances of survival. With climate change increasingly affecting food production and displacing large numbers of people, food insecurity will continue to be a key issue for global development.

The solution to the problem lies in agricultural development that not only addresses malnutrition in the present but also builds food security for the future. Helping smallholder farmers is crucial for addressing malnutrition: 80% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and work primarily in farming. Smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to poverty: half of the world’s undernourished people, three-quarters of Africa’s malnourished children, and the majority of people living in absolute poverty can be found on small farms.

Smallholder farmers in developing countries are also disproportionately exposed to the effects of climate change, which undermine their livelihoods and exacerbate food insecurity. Unsustainable agricultural practices that further accelerate climate change, such as deforestation, are sometimes used in an attempt to increase yields.

Here at GIF, it is our mission to find and fund scalable innovations that will improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. Through our Innovating for Climate Resilience fund, we also specifically seek out innovations that will help poor communities to build resilience to increasingly frequent and devastating climate shocks. 

GIF’s portfolio includes multiple innovations that help smallholder farmers to avoid harmful practices and sustainably improve their production and climate resilience. The positive impacts of this will be felt far into the future – farmers can achieve food security for themselves and their families, as well as building their ability to withstand climate shocks. Here, we’d like to share the work of three GIF investees creating impact in this space.

Babban Gona – Sustainably improving farmers’ lives in Nigeria

Babban Gona operates in poor rural Nigeria, offering an innovative and comprehensive agriculture franchise model that helps smallholder farmers thrive.

By offering inputs such as fertiliser, agricultural information, harvesting services and storage, Babban Gona supports farmers to increase yields, lower production costs, and gain a higher price for produce. Babban Gona has already impacted more than half a million farmers, helping them to secure the futures of themselves and their families.

Babban Gona is also helping the region long-term. Farmers in Nigeria with no viable means to increase their yields often engage in unsustainable agricultural practices which increase the effect of climate change and threaten farmers’ livelihoods and food supply. Babban Gona combats this through farmers’ training which promotes reduced deforestation, reduced crop burning, improved crop rotation, and optimised input use.

To build farmers’ resilience to climate related shocks, Babban Gona implements innovative solutions to increase their productivity and profitability (for instance post-harvest solutions to reduce losses) and takes out yield insurance in the case of extreme weather conditions to provide disaster relief.

GIF supported Babban Gona with a $2.5m investment in 2017, which enabled them to sustainably improve net incomes for more farmers. 

Agritask – Protecting farmers against shocks

Agritask helps link smallholder farmers to new markets to improve their livelihoods, as well as increasing access to insurance and credit so that farmers can invest and withstand shocks. Its innovative software platform is targeted at food and beverage companies, but smallholder farmers benefit through increased productivity and opportunities for contract farming, as well as better access to insurance.

Agritask operates in Sub Saharan Africa and Asia, which are some of the most climate vulnerable regions in the world. Climate change is increasing the likelihood of shocks which makes insurance products essential for smallholder farmers.

Insurance access allows farmers to invest in their businesses to improve yields and security, reducing malnutrition and poverty. When disaster strikes, an insurance payout can help prevent farmers adopting negative coping strategies, such as reducing food intake and removing children from schools.

GIF contributed $3 million to Agritask through an equity investment, supporting the deepening of operations in Agritask’s growth markets, as well as the further development of its platform.

One Acre Fund – Scaling farm technologies to improve farmers’ livelihoods

One Acre Fund tests, evaluates and scales farm technologies and practices that increase the productivity and income of rural smallholder farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa. One Acre Fund also prioritises work on climate resilience, focusing on promoting strategies that enhance smallholder adaptation, and implementing practices that mitigate climate change.

Climate adaptation initiatives include crop diversification, micro-insurance, improvements to soil health, and mitigation activities that cover agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and increasing soil carbon stocks. These strategies will help to ensure the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and improve their food security for generations to come.

A $15m grant from GIF supported One Acre Fund to test and scale innovations, improve cost-effectiveness and long-term sustainability of their model, support partnership development, and conduct a randomised control trial (RCT) in Kenya. Results from the RCT and internal monitoring and evaluation found that One Acre Fund farmers increased their capacity to withstand shocks and stressors and earned on average $96 more per year than comparable farmers.

Climate resilience – key for long term food security

To address global malnutrition and its impacts, supporting smallholder farms is absolutely essential. Sustainably improving their livelihoods today ensures food security both present and future in the face of climate change. The important work of Babban Gona, Agritask and One Acre Fund demonstrates that agricultural innovation can transform farmers' lives for the better, through sustainable development for today and for tomorrow.